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Filtering by Tag: book reviews

book review | national geographic animal encyclopedias

liz lamoreux

This book review is part of a collaboration with Zulily during their current National Geographic event.

When I began to flip through the two books that Zulily sent over, The Animal Encyclopedia and the Ultimate Bug-Opedia, here's what I thought:

The books are gorgeous. The photos are big and make every single animal seem life-like. There is so much information packed inside these pages that we will use when my daughter inevitably asks, "Are lions really cats like the neighbor's cat?" or "Do crocodiles live in Africa or Australia?" Because already at 4, these are the questions coming out of her mouth. And now we have a place to look up the answers. She's also expressed interest in wanting to know the names of the insects we see, and AHA! we now have the perfect book to use to identify them.

But I wasn't really sure what she would actually want to do with these huge reference books.

The real magic happened when she saw them on the kitchen table when she woke up on Saturday morning.

She wanted nothing to do with the TV or even trying to convince us to take her to the Disney Store (because after our trip to Disney World, she pretty much tries to get us to visit the Disney Store every week). 

Instead, she said, "Are these books for me? Can I look at them while I eat breakfast?"

And in that moment, I remembered how I used to look through my parents' National Geographic reference books that they kept on a low shelf in the living room. For hours. I had forgotten about them and hadn't made the connection that Ellie might love the very same thing at her age.

So we dove into the insect book. She wanted to name every single insect she knew and then had me name any that she didn't. Then she saw a wasp and said, "This one has pretty wings. What is it?" I explained knowing she would be surprised because after being stung by two wasps last fall, she's afraid of them and often asks if I see any or if there will be any where we are going etc.

We were able to read about them and talk about how colorful they are and how one kind of paper wasp can even recognize wasp faces in a similar way to how humans see faces. And she decided, "Okay, I think wasps are cool and beautiful. But I still don't like their stingers." (Me either kid.) And she concluded maybe she wouldn't be as afraid all the time now that she'd seen these photos.

That was huge.

Monday after school, I brought out the Animal Encyclopedia as our activity before dinner. She's really enjoyed drawing with me lately, so I thought we might try just drawing pictures of the animals that caught our eye as we flipped through the pages.

This simple act of just seeing how much Ellie liked the book so I could report in for this review became, no joke, one of my favorite moments ever. She went from saying, "I don't know how to draw a bear!" to just diving in. 

Then she wanted to write out their full names. It was not only an exercise in increasing her self-esteem around creating but also became another opportunity to practice writing words all while fostering her curiosity about animals and nature.

This spring break, I'm going to work with her to begin to create a field journal of all the animals we've seen. It will be full of her drawings of them based on our photos + the photos in this book. And then we'll keep adding as we see more at zoos and out in the world.

Such an awesome way to blend learning and fun and creativity for both of us.

And this is the part where I admit that I might not have purchased these just seeing the covers on Zulily. They are gorgeous books as you expect any National Geographic book to be, but how they would actually engage my daughter wasn't apparent to me. I mean she's only four.

I'm so glad I learned this lesson. Ellie loves them. And we've started doing "quiet time" at night and sometimes during naptime (at almost five she's really getting close to letting go of naps right now). During quiet time, she loves to look at huge books with lots of photos and words, so these are now added into the mix, which of course makes her science teacher daddy very happy.

These National Geographic books + other good things are on sale right now over on Zulily. If you're reading this and miss the sale, just click over and then ask Zulily to notify you when they're on sale again. You'll get an email right in your inbox when they're back.

Note: This post was sponsored by Zulily in exchange for my honest review of these books. All ideas, photos, and words are mine. And because I'm a huge fan of Zulily's customer service and have bought quite a few things over the years that I'm very happy with, it is a joy to work with them.

where have i been all my life {a book review}

liz lamoreux

TLC Book Tours contacted me last month about doing a review of Cheryl Rice's book Where Have I Been All My Life? When I saw the tagline, "A Journey Toward Love and Wholeness," I knew I had to say yes. So they sent me the book, and I dove into Cheryl's journey while curled up on my couch.

The overarching theme of Cheryl Rice's book is about how her mother's death and the grief that followed became the catalyst to finally beginning a deeper, more honest relationship with herself. This topic is one I know in my own way, as I've had that experience of grief cracking me open in unexpected ways and finding there are gifts inside the grief even as you deeply miss the other person...in finding that someone else's death gave me space to dive into my own journey in ways I hadn't before the grief.

I also appreciated the honest way she talked about the grief that occurs during the first year or so after the person dies. At the beginning of the fifth chapter she writes:

Ten days into my motherless life, and I know already that I am not going through grief - grief is going through me. I am not in charge, which is quite disturbing, since I like being in charge. Not only that, but while my mother left lots of lists for what and who she wanted taken care of after she died, the one list she didn't leave was the one telling me what to do with myself without her.

One of the things I like about this book is that the path to this new relationship with herself isn't described as happening like a magic wand appeared one day and "aha!" Cheryl finally understood.

Instead she invites us into her non-linear, messy, reluctant-at-times, raw adventure into finding a home inside her. This includes developing a crush on her therapist, trying to control something, anything, by controlling what she eats, and trying to literally find her mom in the places where she could be, like Cheryl's childhood home, and the experiences that are a result of this searching. She writes, "I was bobbing in a stew of grief and longing. My homesickness for my mom was unrelenting."

Even though my mom is still alive, I could viscerally feel this while reading it. If you know grief, you've tasted this raw truth. 

Throughout the book, I like the way Cheryl invites us in with her conversational tone and realness. It reads at time like a journal, other times like a peek into a long conversation with a new friend with whom you instantly hit it off and you share everything over a three-hour lunch, and then it will read like pieces of a raw story you might hear at a storytelling evening at The Moth.

She also shares some journal-like writing she did at the time, and the prompts she's used (shown by the title of the chapter) would be beautiful ones to write in your own journal. I love that even though this isn't a book with prompts in it, we get a peek at the creative, self-care processes this woman used to get through her grief. And she talks about reading Mary Oliver, so you know I love that.

One of the criticisms I've read about Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild is that it's about a woman who left her life in order to literally go on a journey to find herself, and how leaving our everyday lives to walk the Pacific Coast Trail isn't possible for most of us. Now, this book review isn't really the place for that conversation (though I do want to say that I found Wild highly relatable, and I think we champion Thoreau and other men who leave their "regular" lives but have a harder time supporting women who do), but there is a comparison to be made here. If you're looking for a memoir with similar themes to Wild - rebuilding your life after you're broken open by grief, realizing that you alone are the home you've been seeking - and you're looking for a protagonist who is living a life that might be a bit more similar to yours, then this will be a really good fit for you.

And one of the best ways I know that I really enjoyed a book? When I'm sad to see the story end because I feel like I've met a friend with whom I really want to spend more time.

People who are beginning the path of realizing they want to feel like they are enough and want to have a softer internal voice, and people going through grief experiences, often ask me for book recommendations. I'm delighted to add Where Have I Been All My Life? to my list.

Note that while I was given this book to review, all opinions are my own and I did not receive compensation other than the book. And of course it is always fun to write a book review when you end up really enjoying the book. Book links are affiliate.

book review: the wisdom to know the difference

liz lamoreux

Today, I am hosting a day of Eileen Flanagan's blog tour for her book The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change - and When to Let Go.

In this book, Eileen uses the Serenity Prayer as a jumping off point for looking at themes that include change, fear, letting go, and courage. Through her discussions of these (and other) themes, she weaves personal stories from her own experience and the varied experiences of others. 

The Serenity Prayer states, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

So here it is: As I stand in this place in my life where this past year has been so full of the light and beauty and the dark and shadows, I am deeply drawn to the Serenity Prayer and making the choice to seek ways to change while also giving myself permission to listen to what I already know as my truth. This book is a welcome companion to where I am on my journey. As I reflect on the stories I want to share about my experiences of the past year, I am looking to books like this one and books by Brene Brown and Pema Chodron and others as lanterns on my path as I figure out how to share these pieces of my truth. (As I figure out where I am going, how I can rest, what I can let go of, and how I can best help myself as I take the next step and the one after that.) I look forward to sharing more of what I have learned from this book as I share these stories in 2011.

I feel moved to point out that much of The Wisdom to Know the Difference is seen through the lens of the Christian tradition. However, I found the writing to be encompassing of many views (with examples and stories from many faiths), and I was easily able to see it as a book grounded in a spiritual perspective. The many examples, teachers, stories that Eileen cites help to illustrate the common themes people experience when facing the challenging moments of their lives.

There are several meditations and exercises shared throughout the book and you can guess that I loved those. It is always enjoyable to read another person's thoughts about ways to sit in the quiet. Additionally, the questions Eileen invites you to reflect on at the end of each chapter were another aspect of the book that resonated. I like this idea of asking the reader to sift through what she has read and then only take what she needs/what will serve her.

As I was reading this book, I sought out more information about Eileen on her website. Then, while reading a few posts on her blog, it became clear to me that she would do a much better job of introducing herself to the readers and friends who come to my site than I could by sharing a brief bio with you. So I asked her if I could repost a blog post she wrote this past fall entitled, "If You Want to Write." The words that she shares in the following post really spoke to me as a writer.


If You Want to Write
by Eileen Flanagan 

I’ve gotten several requests lately from people who want to write about their spiritual experiences. A recent email asks, “Do you have any advice?” a question so broad that I could write a book to answer it, though I’m going to settle for a blog post. My hope is that this will be helpful to the many people who feel that longing to share their story in print (and that it will spare me the hours it could potentially take to answer each of these requests individually).

Here’s my first and main piece of advice: if you feel called to write, start writing.

I first started feeling the inner-nudge to write while I was working for a non-profit about 19 years ago. I started typing up funny or interesting things that happened at work. I took a few days of vacation in a cabin in the woods with my dog where I read Brenda Ueland’s encouraging classic, If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, and scribbled one of my first articles in long-hand on a legal pad. A few months later, I left my job and became a resident student at a spiritual study center called Pendle Hill where I took a class called Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography, based on Dan Wakefield's book. It was a wonderful class because it gave me a weekly assignment and an encouraging audience. Encouragement really helps, especially in the beginning.

I wrote a lot during my 15 months as a student and then a staff member at Pendle Hill. By the time I left, I had the idea for my first book, but I had also realized that writing was a craft as much as a calling, so I read books on how to improve as a writer. Because Natalie Goldberg encouraged daily writing practice, I took my black and white composition book out to grimy diners and scribbled descriptions of the people at the counter while I sipped my diner coffee. I worked at my book every day. I joined a writer’s group where we read each other’s work and argued over whether people improved from encouragement or critique (both, I believe, in the right measure). I started teaching writing in a prison. Eventually I was ready to write a book proposal and send it to agents, so I started reading the many books on how to do that. So far I’ve published two books and many articles by following the standard publishing advice available on the shelves of Borders and many libraries.

That’s how I got started. I’m sure there are lots of ways, but I suspect they all involve writing a lot, at least if you want to get published and do this full time. Maybe you don’t, and that’s fine. I believe writing is a powerful spiritual practice, and there is much value in writing our stories, regardless of whether or not they are ever published or earn money (which is another matter entirely). I learned this teaching in the prison, watching women who had never been encouraged to express themselves find the joy of exploring their inner landscape. If you have the slightest urge to put your feelings and experiences into words, I say, do it! It will certainly be good for you and it may help other people, too. In the bigger scheme of things, I think it is good for the world when people know themselves and share their stories, though I realize that sounds a bit grandiose. 

But here’s where I want to offer caution along with encouragement. There are many myths about being a writer in our culture, and aspiring writers can sometimes get carried away with the fantasy. For example, we know that Elizabeth Gilbert had a rough divorce, ate a lot of gelato, and started praying—and that her memoir about this phase of her life became an international bestseller that has now been made into a motion picture starring Julia Roberts. “Well, I had a rough divorce, and I like gelato,” the aspiring writer might think, and before you know it they are paralyzed by the question of who will play them in the movie version of their life and whether they really want people to know about that time they couldn’t zip up their jeans—and so they stop writing. 

Here’s the thing people forget: Elizabeth Gilbert wrote since childhood. She wrote short stories in college and became a journalist. She honed her craft for 20 years before she published her memoir, which didn’t do nearly as well in hardcover as it later did in paperback. This doesn't mean you should give up if you haven't been at it for 20 years. Not at all. It just means you should forget about whatever fears or ambitions her story triggers, and start working. Gilbert herself gives a similar message in the Thoughts on Writing page of her website, where she encourages potential writers to “take on this work like a holy calling” not from a desire for success or recognition. I agree, and I find it's advice I need to give myself from time to time.

The questions I'm getting from aspiring writers are reminding me of my first impulse to write, which had nothing to do with amazon ranking or book sales. It's good to stay in touch with that for as William Blake wrote (as quoted in Brenda Ueland's book), "Imagination is the divine body in every man." Nurture it.


Read more about Eileen Flanagan, including a few "outtakes" from her book, at her website and blog.

TLC Book Tours asked me to review The Wisdom to Know the Difference and I received a copy of the book to read in exchange for sharing my thoughts about it. Visit the other sites on Eileen's book/blog tour here.